Lord Siva is worshipped in Chidambaram as a formless presence, Akasa Lingam. Chidambaram is an ancient centre of religion and culture. Siva is worshipped at Chidambaram in the dancing aspect as Nataraja. Ardra Darsana, one of the most important festivals of South India, is celebrated every year at Chidambaram, in the month of Margasirsha.
Within the temple is the ‘Nritya Sabha’ or ‘the hall of the dance’. In front of the central shrine is a structure of wood surmounted with tall golden roof known as the ‘Kanaka Sabha’ or ‘the hall of golden dome’. The central temple is dedicated to Nataraja. It is a plain wooden building standing on a stone-pavement, but behind it is an apartment of polished black stone, the roof of which is formed of gold plates. Opposite to the Sivaganga tank, is the ‘Raja Sabha’ or ‘the hall of one thousand columns’, with granite pillars. King Varua Chola purified himself by bathing in the tank and attained a golden hue.
The five Prakaras of a Siva temple represent the five Kosas of the body. The three Prakaras of certain temples represent the three bodies of a man. Garbhagriha, Ardhamandap, Mahamandap, Snana-mandap, Alankara-mandap, Sabha-mandap represent the six Chakras or the six Adharas of the body.
The Darsanopanishad says: “Chidambaram is in the centre of the heart. Chidambaram is the heart of Virat Purusha”. The Mandap with thousand pillars represents the Sahasrara or the thousand-petalled lotus on the crown of the head. Sivaganga represents the pool of nectar, Amritavapi, in Sahasrara. The place where there are Jyotirlinga and Sri Gurumurti, represents Visuddha Chakra. In Tiruchittambalam or Maha Sabha there are five Pithams for Brahma, Vishnu, Rudra, Mahesvara and Sadasiva. The five letters of Panchakshara form the five steps, and the veil represents Avidya or Avarana. The ninetysix Tattvas form the ninetysix windows. The four golden pillars which are in the centre represent the four Vedas. The twentyeight wooden pillars which surround them represent the twentyeight Agamas. The space that is within the pillars represents Suddha Vidya. Lord Nataraja has His seat in the Pranavapitham.
There is ‘Tiruchittambalam’ behind. This is Chidakasa or the famous ‘Chidambara Rahasya’. Sivakama Sundari or Parasakti has Her seat in Garbhagriha. Rahasya is Nishkala. Ananda Nataraja Murti is Sakala.
In the East is Brahma. In the South is Vishnu. In the North is Bhairava or Samhara Rudra. There are nine Kalasas in the tower. These represent the nine Saktis. The sixtyfour wooden supports in the tower represent the sixtyfour Vidyas or Kalas. The twentyone thousand six hundred copper plates coated with gold, represent the daily twentyone thousand six hundred breaths of a man. The seventy two thousand nails represent the seventytwo thousand nerves or the astral tubes in the body.
The eighteen pillars of Kanaka Sabha represent eighteen Puranas. Kanaka Sabha represents the Manipura Chakra. The five Sabhas represent the five Kosas.
If one rightly understands the secrets of Chidambara temple and worships the Lord Nataraja with intense faith, devotion, purity and one-pointedness of mind, he will attain knowledge and eternal bliss. He will be freed from bondage.
Birth in Tiruvarur gives Mukti. Death in Banares gives Mukti. Darsana of Nataraja of Chidambaram gives Mukti.
Adjacent to the Kanaka Sabha is a temple dedicated to Govinda Raja or Vishnu. This teaches a lesson that Siva and Vishnu are essentially one and that a Virasaivite or Vira Vaishnavite should abandon his bigotry and should have a large heart and equal devotion to Lord Siva and Lord Hari and should see his Ishtam in all Murtis. (By Swami Sivananda)
May Lord Nataraja and Sivakami bless you all and give an understanding heart to comprehend the Chidambara Rahasya!